Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: I shall speak briefly. We have been over this ground a number of times. As both noble Lords who have just spoken said, this issue was covered at great length during the passage of my Sex Discrimination (Amendment) Bill in the last Session. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, had a debate on equality in the last Session also. Indeed, there were a number of debates during the passage of the Licensing Bill, in so far as that Bill applies to the governance of private members' clubs.

I shall make three points. The first is in response to the noble Lord, Lord Henley. For him to give the impression that there is somehow a well of support among Members of the Committee for the continuation of discrimination in private members' clubs is extraordinary, given that the official Opposition in the shape of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, the Liberal Democrat Front Bench in the shape of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and my noble friend Lady Scotland speaking for the Government, all indicated that they want to see a change in the law and that it applied—

Lord Henley: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. From my experience both on the Front Bench and the Back Benches over 25 years in this House, I have found that when all three Front Benches agree they are normally completely and utterly wrong.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: On this occasion it is hard to say that they were wrong. I think that the number of Members of the Committee who have spoken in the same manner as he and my noble friend Lord Borrie can be counted on the fingers of one hand. All I would say about this amendment and the issue in general is that since I raised the issue in my Private Member's Bill and it has continued to be in front of your Lordships, I have continued to receive letters and e-mails from men and women who regard the continuation of discriminatory practices in private members' clubs as quite unacceptable. I continue to receive examples of outrageous behaviour in which women are discriminated against in the governance of clubs, in the access to facilities and so forth.

I shall not go into those now because it is late and it is Friday afternoon. Those examples are well-known to your Lordships. I can put them on the record again if that is required.

I should like to pose a question to my noble friend Lord Borrie—presumably he will be replying to this debate. What is there that is different about his argument relating to sex discrimination in private members' clubs that does not apply with equal force to race discrimination in private members' clubs? Is he proposing that there should be a repeal of the race relations legislation as far as it affects private members' clubs with 25 or more members, in the same way as he is proposing in the case of sex discrimination? Taking on board the argument that

14 Mar 2003 : Column 1635

private members' clubs are, in some way, an extension of one's home and that one should have the right to associate, surely, the logic of that is that you should, if you want to, exclude from membership of clubs people who are perhaps Jewish or black or of Asian origin.

I would be astonished if my noble friend took that view, but the logic of what he says about the way in which people pick and choose who can take part in clubs applies in equal measure. I am sure that the Committee will not want to accept the amendment. However, it is important that we debate it and that the Committee shows itself in favour of the principle contained in the admirable Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Lester.

Baroness Buscombe: I rise briefly on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition to respond to the amendment. I repeat what I have already said in this House with regard to the issue. We believe that where individuals of both sexes are invited to be members of a private club, they should enjoy that membership on equal terms.

I want to ask a question that is perhaps best put to the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. I have no doubt that he will want to speak briefly in relation to the amendment. It relates to associate membership. The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, stated that the Bill would allow women, if they are accepted into membership of a club even as associates, to be entitled to the same facilities as men. It is important that we are clear about that.

There is probably a question over what constitutes an associate. Normally one thinks of associate membership as entitling an individual to a reduced membership fee, with reduced rights or access to facilities. My initial response would be that the right to associate membership should be offered to both men and women on equal terms. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, will clarify that.

Finally, I entirely concur with everything said by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, in relation to other types of discrimination. We are focusing on single-sex clubs and single-ethnic or religious-group clubs being exempted from the Bill. The issue is important and I am pleased that we have another opportunity to debate it, but we cannot support the amendments.

Lord Addington: I want to register the view that I find most offensive the idea of having a bastardised membership of these groups.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Perhaps it would be helpful if I dealt with some of the questions that have been raised. I begin by pointing out that the effect of the noble Lord's amendment would be to remove the management of all clubs from the scope of the Bill. That would have a surprising consequence, which I doubt he intends: that colour bars, which have been forbidden since 1976 in all clubs of more than 25 members, would suddenly become lawful. That was a real vice in the early 1970s when working men's clubs,

14 Mar 2003 : Column 1636

of which there were more than 1 million members throughout the country, maintained colour bars against members and associate members. For that reason, the Race Relations Act 1976 dealt with the matter. Although that is the effect of the amendment, I am sure that it cannot be the noble Lord's intention to repeal that important remedial provision.

Secondly, in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, who knows that I would much rather refer to her as Senator Buscombe, in Schedule 2, paragraph 41(1)(a), and the definition of "associate" in paragraph 41(4) on page 89, it is the intention to include a prohibited discrimination against associates as well as members.

Thirdly, before dealing with the specific points raised by the noble Lords, Lord Borrie and Lord Henley, I should like to address the issue of principle they have raised—that is, whether it is right for legislation to enter the private sphere.

The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, was a distinguished member of the Equal Opportunities Commission in its early glory days from 1977 onwards. He therefore will know, in particular, that both the Race Relations Act and the Sex Discrimination Act did and do rightly interfere in the private sphere. I remind the noble Lord that those statutes deal with race and gender discrimination in the sale or letting of private houses and flats, with the exception of small dwellings with shared accommodation. They deal with access to private partnerships—for example, to a partnership of a GP's surgery. They deal with trade union branches, which are really private clubs in legal form. They deal with private schools of any size. They deal with barristers' chambers, I am glad to say, of any size. And they deal with members' clubs of more than 25 members in relation to colour bars.

Speaking as one of the midwives of the legislation, I see no objection in principle for legislation to command equal treatment without discrimination on a forbidden ground. That is mainly because—although these bodies are private, some of them are as powerful as any public authority—it is unconscionable and unfair to treat any individual human being less favourably than another human being on arbitrary grounds. That is why this country, the United States and the democracies of the Commonwealth have found it necessary to interfere through legislation in this way, provided that there are exemptions for personal privacy and freedom of choice where necessary.

We have tried in the Bill to balance correctly the command of equal treatment without discrimination with concern for other rights and freedoms. We have sought to do that, first, with the Garrick Club exception. Like other noble Lords I declare an interest—or, in this case, lack of interest—as a former member of the Garrick Club. I resigned when 80 per cent of the members made it quite clear that they would never see a woman member in their lifetime. I felt that it was a fine club but not one that I could any longer feel comfortable staying in. So I have now a former interest and a present lack of interest.

14 Mar 2003 : Column 1637

In paragraph 43 of Schedule 2 we seek to exclude single-sex members' clubs. The way in which we have set about doing that would not harm the Garrick Club in any way provided that its members, as the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, indicated, have rules that refer to drama, the law and literature as principal objects of the club. Provided they make clear in their rules—which would require nothing more than a simple rules amendment—that it is a club the principal purpose of which is to give benefits to men, which is clearly the case, the fact that the men are thought to come from the law, literature, the theatre, advertising or commerce, as they tend now to be, will not in any way bring it within the scope of the Bill. If the principal purpose is single sex, then, just as in the case of a single-sex school, it will be entirely outside the scope of the Bill.

Similarly, we have included in paragraph 42 exceptions for racial and religious groups, other than in respect of colour bars. We believe that we have excluded—but we may have got it wrong and I shall think about it—for example, a gay or lesbian club under the positive action provisions in paragraph 46. I shall look at that issue again. We certainly did not intend, of course, to forbid, for example, an old-age pensioners' club from excluding young people. All those are areas of sensible personal choice about which no one could possibly worry—any more than one would about a mothers' union, a parents' union or a group of that kind. That is the intention. I should like to consider the detailed criticisms made by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, to make quite sure that we have not intruded into those areas in that way.

But, so far as principle is concerned, I cannot for the life of me see—provided we exclude single-sex clubs—any way in which, these days, the provisions on the management of members' clubs ought to be excluded from the Bill in their totality. I very much hope, therefore, that the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, will not press his amendment.

3.30 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): First, perhaps I may apologise for not having taken part in the debate at Second Reading. I agree with the remark made by my noble friend Lord McIntosh at Second Reading that this is not a run-of-the-mill Private Member's Bill. I agree with him that it will make a continuing, valued and worthwhile contribution to the debate on the issues covered by it.

The Government share the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and other noble Lords for greater equality of opportunity for all. Our difference lies in the approach, as we do not believe that the time has come for comprehensive reform of the law as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lester. Therefore, we cannot support the Bill generally. However, perhaps I may make a few comments on the matters currently under discussion.

We agree with the inclusion of the provision on clubs in the Bill in so far as it relates to protection against discrimination on grounds of race, sex or

14 Mar 2003 : Column 1638

disability. It accords in principle with the Government's announced intention to include provisions in the draft disability Bill to be published later this year to cover membership of larger private clubs in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Racial discrimination has been prohibited, as the noble Lord, Lord Lester, made clear, in such private clubs since the coming into force of the Race Relations Act 1976. I understand that another Bill dealing with sex discrimination in private clubs has been introduced in another place and is due to receive its Second Reading today. It has the full support of the Government and I wish it well. While I cannot give any assurance about future legislative plans, if that Bill does not make progress we shall be keeping the situation of private clubs and sex discrimination under review.

Perhaps I may say at this point—because I do not intend to interfere further in Committee—that we are taking a different, but measured, approach to achieving our joint aims in this field. In due course, the terms and conditions that we shall explore will come before the House.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page